How to make working from home work for you

I’ve been working from home as a freelance content creator, writer and editor for the past 6 years.

With three kids in primary school and an elderly at home, working from home is like wearing many hats — at the same time. There are days where I’m frazzled and grouchy, and less than efficient. Then there are days where things run smoothly and kids are cooperative — this up and down pattern is to be expected.

Here are some things I’ve learnt along the way. I hope you find them handy if you’re also working remotely during this period:

how to work from home

1) Give yourself time to adjust and find your bearings

When you first start working from home, it may feel like loads of freedom. It’s true that you enjoy some pros: You can work in your PJs, go without makeup, and in some cases work at your own pace and time.

However it is also a constant juggling act. I may start work at 9, but take a break at 11.30 to get groceries or prepare lunch for the kids.

Once the kids get home around 2pm, it’s a frenzy of feeding them and ensuring that school work gets completed.

When I’m settled in at my desk again, it might be 3-ish. Then I usually start preparing dinner at 430/5pm. So it’s another 2-hour duration of actual work.

It will take time to adjust to this stop-start lifestyle, so don’t beat yourself up if you seem unable to get much done in the early days.

2) Work with your own rhythm, not against it

Everyone has their own natural rhythm. Some get into their zone at night when the house is quiet. Others are morning people and do their best thinking and work at dawn.

It is best to use your natural rhythms to your own advantage. And while there are some timings that are not within direct control, such as team meetings, working from home does offer a bit more control over when you choose to tackle what tasks.

For me personally, I try to eat my frogs in the morning. Once I get my hardest thing done and over with, it makes the rest of the day a lil breezier.

3) Get your kids’ buy-in

If you have school-going kids, it is helpful to let them know about your new work situation. If they understand that you are home physically but need to work during certain periods in the afternoon, it is likelier that they will cooperate and give you room to do it.

For me, the kids are quite used to the fact that I work at home. But it doesn’t mean they always give me the quiet space and time I need. On some days, they are playful and rowdy and just being kids, so I’d just pick up my laptop and shift myself physically from the living area to my bedroom.

When I need to do a work call, I will preempt them by letting them know I am not available between this time to this time. It usually goes without a hitch…but if they do barge in, I try not to make a big about it. I just remind them that I’m on a work call and I’ll attend to them after.

4) Expect disruptions

Sometimes when I’m in the middle of something important, the kids get into a tiff and it can be mighty irritating. Or my littlest will come and ask me to cut him some fruits for a snack.

I’ll usually tell him “10 minutes” then I’ll try to finish my train of thought or hurriedly jot something down so I don’t forget it.

The truth is–it is hard for their young minds to understand that while mum is physically home she is mentally taken up by work. So we have to accept that kid-related disruptions and interruptions are normal.

Understanding this will help us to be more accepting and calm when they do pop up. And after answering their needs, I occasionally find I receive more time in return to focus on work after.

5) Communicate regularly with your team

Now that you’re working from home, it also means you need to make an effort to communicate with your team members about what you’re up to, and the status of various projects you’re handling.

Be proactive wherever you can. Early in the week, update your boss and your team about what’s on your plate, and what your priorities are. This also allows you the opportunity to raise issues or ask for help (if needed) early, rather than struggle with a problem quietly on your own.

6) Set a break time

The whole idea about me working from home is not just to provide for the kids physically, in terms of food and safety, but also emotionally. So I have to intentionally set aside playtime with them.

I aim for 2 afternoons where I will get active and bring them for a game of badminton or just a romp at the playground. It could be just an hour or so, but the benefits we reap to our relationship and mental health are aplenty.

7) Minimise distractions

WhatsApp messages and other notifications often distracts me from work. So I keep my phone on silent and leave it a distance away from my work area so I don’t peek at it so often.

I have a friend who swears by a work playlist on Spotify so you can try exploring that too. Recently I’ve found that putting on instrumental music (in particular violin pieces) gets my creative juices flowing.

8) Keep healthy boundaries

It can be hard to draw the line and say “Ok work ends at 9pm.” Very often I think about my work even when I’m tackling the dishes or doing the laundry.

This can be a bit unhealthy, especially if you’re not getting sufficient sleep. (In the past I would work till close to midnight and find that my brain cannot shut down until an hour later!)

So now, having understood my own body, I try not to work past 10pm; nor check my emails after that time. I will spend the hour or so after that to relax with a book or make a chamomile tea and chat with my spouse. If I have tight deadlines that week, I will channel the worries into a to-do list, which helps me focus on the important tasks the next morning.

Have you started working from home recently? What works or doesn’t work for you?

Two parenting skills I’m practising in the new year

What are you looking forward to this year?

What hopes and dreams do you hold in your heart?

I haven’t been blogging much. With all 3 kids in primary school now and my writing work on the side, I just don’t have the mind-space to write as much as I used to. But I will keep trying.

And today, I want to share about two new parenting skills I picked up in December.

1. Empathetic listening

A person who sits down with you, opens his ears and heart to listen to you, doesn’t judge, and tries to understand what it’s like to be in your shoes—this is empathetic listening.

As with many parents, I’m prone to giving instructions and advice. Perhaps we live in a pragmatic society that values efficiency and we won’t want our kids to make too many mistakes. We tend to go straight to problem-solving.
But by listening empathetically, actively, with your whole presence, we give our kids “psychological air”—the space to feel what they feel and to know they are safe in spite of those huge, hard feelings.

In doing so, we also get to help them identify some of those big emotions. They also learn to be more in tune with their feelings.

Left out during recess? “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that… did you feel more lonely or sad?”

First day at school? “How do you feel about your first day tomorrow? Are you feeling worried?

Favourite snack sold out in the supermarket? “Oh dear, that must feel so disappointing. You were really looking forward to eating it.”

Crying because she had to leave a party early? “I can see you’re feeling really upset and frustrated we have to leave. Do you want to talk about it?”

Results so far?

Practising this skill at home has helped me be more patient in handling my kids when they’re having difficulties or feeling upset over something. I find that they calm down faster, and are more willing to listen after they feel like I’ve understood.

I’m definitely motivated to continue this. I feel kids in general need help in building their emotional skills and EQ. I believe this will strengthen their foundation in coping with life’s stresses and challenges!

2. I-messages

This isn’t the first time I’m learning about I-messages but it is the first time I’ve practised it consistently with others in different scenarios and contexts. Basically, I-messages focus on my (the parent’s) feelings when a certain behaviour is seen. It could be positive behaviour, for example, “I like it when you are honest with me.” Or “I enjoy seeing you try your best in practising violin.”

It could also be negative behaviour, such as “I get very agitated when you guys shout or fight in the car. It makes it hard for me to concentrate on driving.”

At times it can also express a certain belief or value, for example, “I believe in working together as a team to tidy up.”

What is so powerful about I-messages?

I-messages are opposite from you-messages, which are unfortunately what most of us are used to dishing out daily. (“Why are you so untidy?” Why can’t you just listen to what I say?”)

The power of I-messages is that they don’t accord blame or guilt; they simply describe the feeling that is caused by a certain behaviour.

The best form of I-messages that I like to use is “I feel ______[emotion] when [describe the situation or action].”

So, they are compassionate and respectful, while also communicating the need to change the behaviour or to reflect on one’s wrong actions.

I think it’s powerful because it helps me be assertive without being aggressive. Thus reducing the need to shout or yell over anything that goes awry. 

Results so far?

Similar to active listening, I feel this skill has helped me to slow down and express my wishes in a gentler, less aggressive way. In the beginning, my kids laughed because they weren’t used to it. Maybe I was still using an angry tone, rather than a reconciliatory one to express my needs. But I think they are slowly getting the hang of it!

Parenting classes in Singapore

If you’re keen to start the new year with new parenting skills under your belt, check out Parent Effectiveness Training (PET). Developed by psychologist and three-time Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Dr. Thomas Gordon in 1962, PET offers proven communication skills that enhance relationships in and out of the home.

There are weekday and Saturday classes coming up in February, so do check them out and sign up early! Classes are also available in Mandarin here

Here’s to building stronger relationships with our kids this year!

 

mum and young son bonding

Disclaimer: I was offered to attend the PET training workshop for free in order to write this review. Views shared above are my own.

Catch The Snowman for Some Family Fun this Holidays!

Looking for something meaningful and fun for the whole family this holidays?

Round everyone up to watch The Snowman at the Esplanade theatres!

the snowman musical

The Snowman musical finale

Thrilling audiences young and old, the enchanting live show has been appearing on stages around the world for over twenty years.

Based on Raymond Brigg’s well-loved book, the story begins when a young boy’s snowman comes to life on Christmas Eve. The duo embarks on a night-time adventure to meet Father Christmas, dancing penguins and reindeers, and more of the Snowman’s friends. But they also encounter perils on their quest – will they escape the evil of Jack Frost and make it back home in time for Christmas morning?

The Snowman is showing at The Esplanade Theatres from 12 to 15 December! Click on these exclusive discount links for amazing discounts!

Applicable to CAT 1 & 2 Tickets, and for 12 and 13 December, 7pm shows ONLY.

Tickets need to be bought in multiples of 2.

Applicable for 14 and 15 December shows ONLY.

The snowman musical

6 hacks for stress-free primary school days

6 Hacks for Stress-free School Days-2-2

Are you stressed out managing your kids’ school routines and homework?

The early morning starts and rushing errands/work while the kids are at school can take its toil on even the fittest among us.

I have two kids in primary school and Josh my youngest will join his brother next year. I also have an elderly godmother to care for at home. Some days can be overwhelming but I am learning that the difficult days will pass, and to relish the good and fruitful moments.

If you find yourself struggling to keep up with a hectic schedule, these tips/hacks may be useful for you.

1. Prep breakfast in advance

I’ve fed my children rolled oats for breakfast since they were little tots. When they were around 2-3 years old, we started them on baby oats, or oatmeal, that is easily softened by just milk or water. Top it up with their fav fruits like berries, raisins, or granola.

When they started primary school, they started on rolled oats, which has a chewier bite. I prepare their individual bowls at night, top them with fruits and leave it in the fridge. In the mornings, my kids will get their bowls and fill them with milk/water. They will have breakfast by themselves and clear their bowls after.

I’m blessed that they are independent in this small way, and thankful for the few minutes of extra sleep. It also helps that I don’t have to think about what to prepare for breakfast! (I know oats are not everyone’s thing, but I’m sharing this so you can think about what might work as a fuss-free breakfast for you.)

2. Talk to your child about school

With three kids at home, it can be hard just getting through the day, much less find time to connect with each child.

But I’ve come to realise how important this is, especially for my tween. She comes to me at night and just wants to grumble/chat/tell funny stories/hang out, and occasionally share about her struggles.

So whether it’s in the car, or snuggled up in bed at bedtime, strike up a conversation with your child. Find out how he spends his recess time, who he hangs out with, where his favourite places in school are, and the highlight (or lowlights) of his day. There may be priceless moments when he reveals something that is stressing him out, and when we can step in to trouble-shoot, reassure, and pray.

Time spent in less-structured activities (i.e., free play or child-directed play) leads to better self-directed executive functioning.

3. Minimise enrichment classes after school

I’ve observed that my kids need to wind down after school, whether it’s by reading a book or playing a board game. While this can be linked to each child’s personality, it is essential to provide some free time for your kids to relax and unwind after school.

Studies have shown that structured activity after structured activity is not the best way for children. This study shows that time spent in less-structured activities (i.e., free play or child-directed play) leads to better self-directed executive functioning. In layman terms, this means they are better at setting and meeting their own goals, which is the basis for independence, self-motivation and autonomy.

4. Create an inbox at home for school communication

You know how letters from school and little projects/excursion notifications tend to pile up. I try to input dates into my family calendar straightaway so I know when each child needs to be picked up early/late.

For letters with a “what to bring” segment for the child, I’ll put it on a notice board (just an empty wall space near my desk). So when the child hollers, I just ask them to refer to the “board”.

All other things like spelling and tingxie lists, or ongoing projects like a book list go into each child’s in-tray. This helps to minimise the risk of important things going missing.

5. Scenario plan for anxious children

I have an anxious child under my wing, and school can be a stressful affair for him. Things like being late or losing school worksheets are especially sticky.

To help him along, we have clear morning routines that we modify if he wakes up later than usual. For example, if it’s very late, he skips his regular breakfast and I pack a peanut butter sandwich for him to eat on the way.

If his pencil case is missing, we run through what to do the next day – things like looking around his row, and going to the lost and found corner at school. Instead of scolding (although yes sometimes I’d nag), we try to shift our focus to identifying the problem and solving it.

6. Break up revision for spelling/tingxie

I typically leave my kids to handle their own revision for spelling, as they are more confident with the language. But for Chinese tingxie, I break up the learning into two chunks. His spelling day is on Thursday, so he starts learning the first five words on Tuesday, and the remaining five on Wednesday.

This helps them memorise the words better and makes the learning more bearable too.

Which tip is most helpful for your situation?

Two phrases that will help you be a more mindful parent

It’s the start of a brand new year and people are busy making plans for CNY, holidays, as well as setting new year resolutions.

I was inspired to write this post as I’m trying to be more mindful about my parenting this year. This includes being more careful with what I say, and what I do.

Here are two mantras I hope to be more intentional in teaching the kids, and using it with them this year.

1. “There is a time for everything”

I first heard this statement being used by a psychologist friend. Her niece was whining about not being able to play for a longer time.

In response, she said simply, “Remember, there is a time for everything. You’ll still get to play with your friends next time.”

Now that school has started, and our schedules need to be tighter, we are trying to keep to an early bedtime of 8.30pm.

This means that in the evening, when the kids are busy playing a game or reading a book, the activity sometimes needs to be cut short.

I hope to use teach them this mantra this year, and use it consistently, whenever we are preparing for a transition. It will hopefully help them to overcome the disappointment of having to end their play-time, and go to bed in a happier mood.

2. “Turn your unhappiness into a request”

Just the other day, I was feeling a little upset at my hubby for a minor thing. I lapsed into a usual complaint routine where I express my irritation at him.

After the event, I realised how unpleasant I sounded, and it hit me then, how I could have made the situation more bearable by turning my unhappiness into a request.

For example, instead of going, “Why didn’t you do _________?” I’m going to say:

  • “I feel upset when you don’t _______(using the I-statement to avoid blaming the other person).
  • Next time, can you _______?”

Now doesn’t that sound more palatable than a rant?

Sometimes the kids tend to grumble or throw a tantrum when something doesn’t go their way. This is when I’m hoping this phrase will come in handy and remind them to turn the upset feeling into a request. Of course, I’m not promising that every request will be met with a “yes”. But at least I would consider it and if it’s practical and doable, then why not make it a “yes”?

To teach them these mantras:

  • I will choose a time when everyone is calm and ready to listen.
  • I will write the statement down on a white board (keeping things visual helps for young children)
  • I will ask them how they’d feel if someone else communicated their desires and needs in such a way.

It will take time and repetition, for sure. But I hope these two phrases will provide us with some handles to better manage the school year ahead.

If you have other ideas and mantras that you’ve heard of, would you share them with me by leaving a comment? Thank you and blessed new year!

hi five with parents

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